Did you know that, according to psychological studies, we decide whether to like a person within 3-5 seconds of meeting them? That does not mean we cannot change our minds later, but boy do those first impressions count!
Research scientist Amy Cuddy explains this further
“When we form a first impression of another person it’s not really a single impression. We’re really forming two. We’re judging how warm and trustworthy the person is, and that’s trying to answer the question, “What are this person’s intentions toward me?” And we’re also asking ourselves, “How strong and competent is this person?”
First Impressions are made as you walk on stage
Public speaking can be daunting enough; so let’s not make things harder on ourselves by falling foul of bad first impressions. You have no doubt heard the phrase, “Dress for Success”? You will be judged by what you wear and how you look, but how you sound and whether you make eye contact and are confident will also be part of the first impressions. How competent you are should be a factor of your knowledge and experience. However, if your clothing or appearance distracts your audience they will judge you and miss your message.
Improve First Impressions – 5 do’s and don’ts
- Wear clothes that fit properly, or you will be tugging at that hem or waistband and feel awkward yourself. Clean, ironed suits, shirts, skirts say that you care about yourself and respect your audience.
- Be careful with colour! This is especially important if you are being filmed. Check the backdrop colour of the stage and try not to clash. Bright colours are engaging but over bright are uncomfortable for your audience to look at for any length of time.
- Make sure your audience can see your face clearly. No elaborate hairstyle hanging over one eye. You want your every word to be “seen” as well as heard.
- Polish your shoes – many of your audience will be at feet height and scuffed dirty shoes give a very poor impression.
- Wear clothes cool enough to cope with the hot lights of a stage. Sweat patches are not good first impressions! On a more personal note- if you have dandruff- wear light coloured tops or jackets.
- Wear your towering high heels ladies. After half an hour standing in them your feet will be screaming at you. The pain will show in your voice and you may well rush your speech just to get off stage and free your feet. A lower heel is most comfortable and is smart. Also, falling over on stage is definitely on the poor first impressions list.
- Forget you will be wearing a microphone and it has to be attached to you. This means dresses are out unless you have a light jacket over them.
- Wear too much jewellery for two reasons. One, it gives an impression of flashiness and over stated opulence. Two, it can be very distracting to your audience. On a purely practical level; a microphone picks up every sound and jangling jewellery will be heard. Plus, as we talk and walk, being passionate about our subject, jewellery also moves! Earrings swing, a pendant flies across your chest and your audience waits with bated breath to see if it is going to hit you on the nose!
- Carry change, your phone, anything in your pockets. This is especially applicable to men. Your trouser pockets will sag with items, distort the line of your suit and also the noise can be picked up by the microphone.
- Overdo the make-up, fashion items or generally see the stage as a catwalk. The impression you want to give is that of an expert, with gravitas but warm, friendly and approachable.
First Impressions should not be ignored
You are an individual and do not have to feel that the corporate look is the only safe bet when speaking in public. However, remember that first impressions are made within 5 seconds of you walking on stage. What impression do you want to give your audience? Do you want them to listen to what you have to say or talk about how you looked? To enable your audience to connect with your warmth and passion and feel you are to be trusted don’t let the wrong first impressions detract from your speech.
To read my personal story of getting first impressions wrong, and right…see my Huffington Post article…“Dressing to Impress or Not!”